Carmelo Anthony is Overrated (a story at the Atlantic)

My latest for the Atlantic.com looks at Carmelo Anthony.  And not surprisingly, I argue – as the title indicates [Carmelo Anthony: Way Overrated (The star NBA foward isn't as valuable to the Knicks as their fans—or their front office—think)]  that Melo is a bit overrated.

The article runs for more than 2,000 words (so it is a bit lengthy).  Still, there were just a few points that had to be left out of the article (because these stories were not really necessary to the basic argument).

Before we get to those, let’s just do a quick overview of one of the articles’ main arguments. As NBA fans know, Melo is one of the leading scorers in the NBA.  And as readers in this forum know, I think NBA players shouldn’t be evaluated strictly in terms of scoring.  In fact, I think one is better off looking at shooting efficiency instead of scoring totals.

This point seems obvious when we consider a sport like baseball (a point not made in the article).  In 2013, Adrian Beltre had 199 hits while Miguel Cabrera only had 193.  From these two numbers, it is clear that Beltre must be the better hitter.  But baseball fans know (or at least, I think they should know this), we don’t look at total hits in evaluating a player.  What we consider are efficiency measures like batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, or OPS. All of these measures consider performance per at-bat.  And when we look at performance from that perspective we see that Beltre was quite good in 2013.  But Cabrera was much better.

Likewise, when we consider efficiency (i.e. performance per shot) – as the above article does – players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant are amazing.  And – as the above article indicates – Anthony is not.

Although this seems obvious (at least to me), here is what Oscar Robertson recently said about these three players:

“You look at LeBron [James], LeBron’s got a great game and the kid down at Oklahoma, [Kevin] Durant’s got a great game — they can’t out-shoot Carmelo. … I’ve seen him in a lot of basketball games over the years and I’m telling you right now the kid, he just can get that shot away. 

For Robertson, because Anthony takes many shots he must be good.  But that seems to presume that if Anthony wasn’t there, someone else wouldn’t take the shot.  I think think the evidence is clear that stars do not “create” shots, they simply “take” shots from their teammates.  So again, in evaluating players we should look at efficiency.

Robertson – who is noted in the article – is not the only former star to be impressed by Anthony.  Patrick Ewing also seems to think Anthony is important to the Knicks future.

As fans of the NBA know, Patrick Ewing came to the New York Knicks with the first pick in the 1985 NBA draft.   When he departed 15 years later he had scored 23,665 points, appeared in nine All-Star games, and appeared in the post-season 13 times.  But despite this success, Ewing never won an NBA title.

Ewing recently offered his explanation for his failure to win a championship.  In an interview given to ESPN.com’s Ian O’Connor, Ewing stated (with some regret): “I would have loved to have played with another bona fide superstar.”  Although Ewing seemed to appreciate the efforts of his “sidekicks”, he also noted: “But they still weren’t Carmelo Anthony.”

Of course, Ewing couldn’t have played with Anthony.  When Ewing left the Knicks in 2000, Anthony was only 16 years old.

But that was not the point Ewing seemed to be making.  Ewing seemed to argue that having a star player isn’t enough to win a title.  A team also has to get that star player some help.

So although Ewing wishes he had a teammate like Anthony, the truth seems to be quite a bit different. Anthony has really never been much of a “star” (and he has had – as I note at the Atlantic – quite a bit of help.)  And Ewing – again, like Anthony – actually had quite a bit of help in his career.

To illustrate, Ewing’s best team – in terms of regular season wins — was the New York Knicks of 1992-93.  That season the Knicks won 60 games, but lost to the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan in the Eastern Conference Finals.  On that Knicks team, everyone not named Ewing produced 50.0 win.  In contrast, everyone not named Jordan produced only 40.0 wins for the Bulls. And that means, Ewing didn’t fail to win a title because he didn’t have enough help.  He failed to win a title because he simply wasn’t as productive as players like Michael Jordan (another very efficient scorer!).

Let me close by noting that there are productive “star” players who failed to win a title because they didn’t have enough help (like Charles Barkley).  But I think Anthony and Ewing, don’t fit that story.

- DJ

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